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Dreamblood #0.5 - The Narcomancer

How Long 'til Black Future Month?

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In these stories, Jemisin sharply examines modern society, infusing magic into the mundane, and drawing deft parallels in the fantasy realms of her imagination. Dragons and hateful spirits haunt the flooded city of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In a parallel universe, a utopian society watches our world, trying to learn from our mistakes. A black mother in the Jim Crow south must figure out how to save her daughter from a fey offering impossible promises. And in the Hugo award-nominated short story “The City Born Great,” a young street kid fights to give birth to an old metropolis’s soul.

400 pages, Hardcover

First published November 27, 2018

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About the author

N.K. Jemisin

119 books53k followers
N. K. Jemisin lives and works in New York City.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,790 reviews
Profile Image for emma.
1,822 reviews45.8k followers
February 10, 2021
my becoming-a-genius project, part 5!

in case you somehow missed parts one and two and three and four clogging your feed for the past 4 months (and thank heavens for small mercies), here's the situation:
i have decided to become a genius.

to accomplish this, i'm going to work my way through the collected stories of various authors, reading + reviewing 1 story every day until i get bored / lose every single follower / am struck down by a vengeful deity.

i've been meaning to pick up something by NK Jemisin for a long time, but i find long, literary short story collections far less intimidating than huge tomes of high fantasy, so here we are. full of excitement!!!


"Now, perhaps, you will think of Um-Helat, and wish. Now you might finally be able to envision a world where people have learned to love, as they learned in our world to hate."
brilliant and melancholy and inspiring. this is off to an incredible start. also, my heart hurts. and my brain is happy.
take that, Ursula Le Guin. Omelas can f*ck off and die as far as i'm concerned. and the ethics class i read it in can too while we're at it.
rating: 5

the pacing of this was kinda weird but overall this is gorgeousexcitingcreativeamazing. i loved it. kinda nervous this collection might be a 5 star read.
rating: 5

not really my kind of story (my fey days are behind me - shoutout to when i was 9 and i thought i could control the wind because my friend grace told me she saw it in a dream), but i can still appreciate this one.
rating: 3.5

not going to lie..........this didn't have much oomph for me. felt like it could have been written by anyone, where the first three were so distinct.
bummer. also now i want pasta.
rating: 3

i do love me some alternate history where the world is more just, even if just as wicked.
not a huge fan of instalove, though. wins and losses and all that.
rating: 3.5

1) great title.
2) great message.
3) good story.
4) more instalove???????????
rating: 3.75

took a day off from this project for Depression Reasons but we're back at it. geniuses don't make themselves.
this is a lovely one.
rating: 4.5

today i am feeling: grateful that my mind doesn't work like NK Jemisin's, which, while brilliant and creative and one of a kind, seems also kinda exhausting. and depressing.
rating: 3.75

really really really not a fan of this one. sorry.
rating: 2

okay, fine, it's not day 10. it's not even day 11. it's technically day 12, because i have now skipped two days. but i am powerful and strong and i will try to put three days in one here because i want to catch up!!!
call me prudish, but i've never liked sex and sci-fi to mix. and now we're at 2 in a row.
rating: 3

i cannot get enough of an unusual format. give me folders. give me text messages. give me confidential documents.
this was fun AND a thinker.
rating: 4.25

i am a big fan of the central metaphor here.
rating: 4

this is a sweet little one.
rating: 3.75

this made me very hungry. and also i adored it.
rating: 5

not going to lie...i did not get this one. on any level. at all.
rating: 2.5

might have to call it now and say i'll never get sick of stories from death's perspective.
rating: 4.5

immediately rude to title a story something this close to "necromancer."
anyway, the instalove in all these stories is really killing me.
rating: 3

fun unique structure AND a powerful central metaphor i actually understood? we're eating good today.
rating: 4.25

more instalove, but with unique blogging/texting formatting.
my enemy meets my great love. how to feel????
rating: 3.5

true fans know it's actually day...24, because toward the end of day 19 i spilled a glass of water on my laptop, which i have had for 5 years and love presumably more than some people love their own children. this tragic and untimely death caused me to begin a weekend-long mourning period during which i forgot how to read.
anyway. now i have a borrowed laptop, and maybe i'll try to catch up on this one day soon but today is not that day.
i'm mostly glad this was a short one. re-learning how to read, you know.
rating: 3

looks like the title is a reference to the chance that i'm once again too lazy to play catch-up today! ayo!
also, as someone who reads universal significance into probably More Things Than What's Healthy, this story hit close to home!!
rating: 4

turns out this is the last story...so not much catch-up to play after all.
this book really is a love letter to cities in so many ways.
rating: 3.5

NK Jemisin has a totally one-of-a-kind mind, blending sci-fi and reality into beautiful stories that can also be stressful and too intense. this wasn't always a pleasurable reading experience, but it's not really supposed to be - and it was a unique and excellent one.
rating: 4
Profile Image for Cece (ProblemsOfaBookNerd).
332 reviews7,309 followers
March 4, 2020
God this was brilliant. I’ll come back later with a full review for every story in the collection. For now -

Average rating: 4/5
Final rating: 4.5/5

Update 3/4/20:

Ok let's talk about how good this collection is. I'm obsessed with N.K. Jemisin and I've only read 2 books by her at this point, so I can only imagine how that obsession will grow with time. This is a thoughtful, inventive collection that takes so many risks and almost every single one of them pays off. How Long 'til Black Future Month gives every story in the collection the correct number of pages in order to work. The length varies from story to story, and it's always the right decision to let a story breathe or cut it off when it's time.

Jemisin is a fascinating and inventive writer. No story in this collection is the same, and they all have something meaningful to say. From the single perspective narratives on a world where we treat each other with care to sprawling historical fiction adventure tales in New Orleans to future worlds post-apocalypse where we are all left desperately alone save a few online connections. These stories breeze through easy definitions of sci-fi and fantasy, apocalypse and dystopia, magic and science.

I think that's enough general talk for now. Let's move into my individual ratings of all 22 of these stories.

The Ones Who Stay and Fight - 5/5
Fucking brilliant introduction to this collection. It's so full of heart and so full of refusal to confirm to the literary traditions of cishet white men. Humans have a capacity for love and understanding and it's horrific that we are forced to live in a world where we think differently. This is about getting to work, getting to a point where we can build a utopia where people are understood and valued as equals across the board. Just wow.

The City Born Great - 4.5/5
A clear inspiration/early concept for Jemisin's newest book, The City We Became. The fuck you, off-tempo, fantabulous feel of this story is off the damn charts. A city is a breathing thing, and like any great beast it has a monster. The narrative choices here are so interesting and unusual, so off the beaten track of what a story like this can look like. The story, like the city of New York, feels alive and breathing and angry. Loved this to the moon and back.

Red Dirt Witch - 3/5
It took a bit for me to get into this story and to understand all the details at work. It is a story about magic and fae and the pivotal point in time where the fight for civil rights was truly making waves up to Obama's presidency. I think some of it felt a little rushed (not surprising in a short story that covers this many decades of time), thus why I was a bit confused at the beginning and why it took so long to get into the magic. However, huge props for a story about fae that I didn't hate reading. Usually fae are my anti-buzzword but I loved the mythology around them in this world, it was very inventive and cool.

L'Alchimista - 5/5
This is the first story in the collection about a love of cooking, and the magical properties of making food and it is utterly delightful. It has a sort of timelessness, a refusal to clarify when exactly we might be. It's also a story about cooking, and how it is a bit like witchcraft. I think what is magical here is the idea of simple tasks, tasks that are usually considered "women's work", being turned from mundane to magical just through love and talent. It's a lovely concept and I'm very into it.

The Effluent Engine - 5/5
MY FAVE STORY IN THE ENTIRE COLLLECTION OH MY GOD. The rip roaring, spy-meets-engineer f/f story of my dreams. This is adventurous and fun, full of tension and romance, and it's all set in the gorgeous late 18th-century New Orleans. I would read a 10 book series imagined around this story. It's perfection.

Cloud Dragon Skies - 3/5
I'm not sure, I just feel like I didn't get this one? "Cloud Dragon Skies" is a commentary on climate change and space exploration, the old ways and the new, and it's also a love story. I think I didn't understand the romantic relationship of this one so the rest of the story felt unfulfilling by comparison. If the story is based around romance and that romance doesn't make sense to me, the whole thing really falls flat. I do think the climate change discussion was strong, and I liked the idea of this future world where people of color who live off the land kind of tell white people to fuck off into the sky so the planet can be fixed. Great concept, just not my favorite execution.

The Trojan Girl - 4/5
Brilliantly high concept. This is a future world with ingrained technology, and the creatures created in the midst of that mind sharing technology. It's also about a capacity to love and how dreaming can be the key to humanity and passion. It took me a bit to get into, like I said this is high concept and I had to adjust to this world and these characters, but I loved that this took compassionate twists I wasn't expecting.

Valedictorian - 4.5/5
This one goes out to the smart girls, the passionate, the ones who refuse to let the world's ideas make themselves small. It is also yet another story to introduce the idea of a future full of a different kind of human, and how we as humans would react to that given our history with different types of people. It's killer and sad but also kind of kicks ass. Huge love for "Valedictorian".

The Storyteller's Replacement - 4/5
I liked the tone and the conceit of this one. This is the second story in the collection that I would consider a story within a story (the first one being "The Ones Who Stay and Fight") and I'm very interested in that concept. When I say a story within a story, I mean that this is one of three narratives in the collection that is told through a one-sided conversation, a monologue of sorts, where the narrator is speaking to someone else but we never hear that other side of the conversation. It's a cool narrative choice. I think this could have used slightly more to flesh it out but it was suitably unsettling and the end of the story within a story was excellent.

The Brides of Heaven - 3.5/5
This was good, but I didn't quite understand the end? I read it through twice and I'm still unsure how this all panned out. I think this was a take on the myth of the Amazons, of this version of a "virgin" Mary, one impregnated by a god. But it's also got a hint of insanity, a bit of sci-fi, and the barest by of a dystopian/Handmaid's Tale elemtn. I like the method of storytelling, I just think the ending stumbled.

The Evaluators - 2/5
Sadly, my least favorite of the collection. Not to sound remarkably stupid but I'm unsure fully what happened in this story. It's told in the format of transcripts of conversations and posts and comments, but the timeline is very difficult to follow so I was constantly flipping back and forth trying to work it all out. This is a story about aliens, about the scientific discovery of a new species and studying that species, but I think it was rough and not super clear.

Walking Awake - 4/5
Really solid story. I am always a fan of a revolution, of overthrowing a tyrannical reign, because it feels current in a constantly terrifying way. This also uses the concepts of parasites and hosts and science going too far, too wrong. I loved the main character of "Walking Awake", Sadie, and I loved the descent into despair and eventually to anger and acceptance. I didn't get quite as emotionally invested in this one as other stories, but it was still a really incredible entry.

The Elevator Dancer - 4/5
Fascinating and incredibly quick story, only a few pages long. This feels like it is set in a conservative-driven dystopia akin to 1984. It's about small acts of rebellion, and it isn't entirely hopeful. But I liked it's simplicity, it worked for me and really drove home how some anthologies are constrained by their page requirements. Sometimes a story doesn't need 20 pages, sometimes 20 pages isn't enough. Reading a story this effective that is under 10 pages just served as a reminder that short fiction should be able to thrive with a less strict page count.

Cuisine des Memories - 5/5
Another cooking magic story! I adore how much Jemisin loves food and the magic of food. This is a brilliant, contained bit of small magic in an unmagical world. It is about a magic of recapturing a meal from any night and thus reliving those memories, good or bad. I adored it.

Stone Hunger - 4.5/5
I'll admit, I don't know if I should have read this one considering it seemed to be a part of the Broken Earth trilogy, which I haven't finished yet, but I'm still glad I got to discover this new part of that world. It took me a minute to get into it, just like the full books in the trilogy have. It's so vivid and refuses to slow down and explain things to you, which I commend it for. I love the viciousness of this story and the brutality built into this girl. She reminded me of Arya Stark during her time with the Faceless Men. I live and breathe for angry women wreaking the vengeance they deserve.

On the Banks of the River Lex - 3/5
Points for originality here, even if I didn't really vibe with it. This was set in some distant future/sideways world, a world where something has happened and many magical things walk among us. It has the traditional Jemisin love of New York and the quirkiness of a story following Death when he isn't quite sure of his place anymore. I think I could have used more world building, but it's a fine enough story as is.

The Narcomancer - 3/5
This was a somewhat exhausting read. I kept falling asleep (if you have also read this, yes I realize the irony here). There wasn't necessarily anything wrong with it I just couldn't stay awake to appreciate the story of this character. Fine, but not excellent. I did like the work it was doing in understanding and working through trauma, plus there was a gender nonconforming side character I would like to dedicate my life to.

Henosis - 4.5/5
LOVED the inventiveness of this one. It's a story told out of order, the chapters mixed up as you go, and is a quick tale of a world where artists are remembered for their deaths, whatever that might mean. It's a solid experiment in nonlinear storytelling and a fun read as you are quickly and horrifically introduced to this world.

Too Many Yesterdays, Not Enough Tomorrows - 4/5
I think this might have received a higher rating if it didn't make me so damn sad lol. This was super excellent and effectively horrifying Black Mirror-esque fiction at it's best. An apocalypse without an apocalypse, the terror of unending isolated existence, love being the possibility of doom or freedom. It's super solid, I just felt so anxious and sad reading it that I couldn't give this the 5 stars the writing probably deserves.

The You Train - 4/5
Another solid single-perspective monologue story! This was about wandering in New York City, plus some ghost trains, feeling listless and unsure of where to go. The voice was really innovative and great and I think it did a ton right, especially when you consider how short it was.

Non-Zero Probabilities - 3.5/5
I love the worldbuilding of this, the concept of good luck and bad luck not only existing but being absolutes - if only in one city. I did think that the plot was a little sparse and I don't know if it got it's point across quite well enough. This is another story where I would love to read chapters and chapters about this world, but the story itself could have used more work.

Sinners, Saints, Dragons, and Haints, in the City Beneath the Still Waters - 4.5/5
Jemisin has so much love for places. Places, cities, where a lot of people live and work and love take on identities for her and I think that's profound and fascinating. This is a take on Hurricane Katrina, set in a world of dragons and embodiments of hatred. It's hard and sad but has that burning passion for a place, for a home, and I think it's a damn good story.

Was this review long enough for you?

When I said near the beginning that I think N.K. Jemisin is writing fiction far beyond the literary traditions of cishet white men, what I mean is that even when her stories lack happiness they are never hopeless. The goal of her work isn't to manipulate you, it's about challenging you to see the good in people and also be willing to see the evil side of those to discriminate and hate. Her stories are political in the simplest of ways, asking you if it is fair that differences of opinion equal differences of respect. And I think that's revolutionary. I think that it is going against the grain of so much sci-fi and fantasy past and present.

If you managed to read this far into my review, I just want to say that I think this collection has something for everyone. I can't wait to fall even more in love with Jemisin as time goes on, and I'm so thrilled I spent this February of 2020 digging into so many different sides of her work.
Profile Image for s.penkevich.
787 reviews5,400 followers
February 18, 2023
Multiple Hugo-winning author N.K. Jemisin is known for her expansive series, like the incredible Broken Earth Trilogy or Inheritance Trilogy, full of dynamic world building and vast scopes. Here, in How Long ‘til Black Future Month, she collects her short fiction, written between 2004 and 2017, which manages to dazzle even in the shadows of her epic works or her own admittance that ‘once upon a time, I didn't think I could write short stories.’ Simply said, there seems to be nothing Jemisin can’t do, something clearly evident in these short works of speculative fiction that sashay between sci-fi futures of cyberpunks, parasitical alien lifeforms or AI, and more fantasy fiction of dragons in New Orlean or a woman making deals with the fae in Jim Crow era south. Or, majestically, a blend of both all at once. These stories have a rebellious and socially conscious heart and Jemisin delights no matter what she throws at you in these tales that look at a changing world and ask us to fight for a future that is good for an inclusive humanity.

It is so easy to have principles. Far, far harder to live by them.

The title of this collection comes from an essay Jemisin wrote about Janelle Monáe, so that’s already awesome and you should probably listen to her music while reading this. Written over a broad period of time, these stories have a unique ability to capture fairly in-their-moment speculative ideas and themes that are fun to observe, with this collection forming a rather insightful collage of topics. Singularity and space horror saddle up alongside stories of climate change, and while occasionally the language feels a bit dated, it also recalls a pre-twitter world where message boards and chat rooms were cutting edge and we all thought Matrix-style hackers were super cool. If there is one thing to be said about the range of stories, it is that Jemisin has always spoken up for human rights and inclusivity and against obdurate powers that hold others down for power.

The collection opens with The Ones Who Stay and Fight (read it here), a story written as a response and conversation with The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin. ‘So don’t walk away’ the narrator says, ‘The child needs you, too, don’t you see? You also have to fight for her, now that you know she exists, or walking away is meaningless.’ The story is a pretty direct and touches on a lot of issues of justice and racism, with many of the asides being cast at the world of fiction itself and the historical lack of inclusivity in Sci-fi as well as the vile pushback at those hoping to improve upon that. ‘It’s almost as if you feel threatened by the very idea of equality,’ the narrator says, ‘almost as if some part of you needs to be angry.

Jemisin has written at length on the issue of inclusivity in publishing, particularly on twitter, and her introduction to the collection addresses that as being a constant aspect of writing short fiction. Particularly knowing not only does short fiction not pay or bring much of an audience, but neither does having Black characters only exponentially making her worried about the fate of her stories.
How much I’ve had to fight my own internalized racism in addition to that radiating from the fiction and the business. How terrifying it’s been to realize no one thinks my people have a future. And how gratifying to finally accept myself and begin spinning the futures I want to see.

Luckily for us, Jemisin wrote anyways and uses her voice to remind others they should do the same. ‘Now I am bolder, and angrier, and more joyful,’ she says.

A common thread Jemisin can construct complex emotional and moral stories, with survival being a key element in most of them. The worlds these characters exist in are pushing towards the future, and Jemisin reminds us that resisting change is tantamount to death. But her worlds are wonderful, with lesbian spies serving the Haitian Republic, wizards, dragons, sentient bits of code, even sentient water that impregnates those who wade into it. And much, much more. She also can set up a wonderful villain character and remind us that, yes, sometimes people are ‘just fucking evil’:
we have a bad habit, encouraged by those concealing ill intent, of insisting that people already suffering should be afflicted with further, unnecessary pain. This is the paradox of tolerance, the treason of free speech: we hesitate to admit that some people are just fucking evil and need to be stopped.

But really, whatever Jemisin does just tends to work for me and this collection is so much fun as it leaps around the whole spectrum of speculative fiction.

Fans of her work will enjoy that many of these stories connect to her larger worlds. Stone Hunger is set in the Broken Earth universe, featuring Stone Eaters, and Narcomancer exists in the world of her Dreamblood books. Also included is her Hugo and Locus award nominated story The City Born Great (you can read it here) which would later be slightly revised into the opening chapter of The City We Became. Though there are plenty of exciting new worlds to be explored here as well.

This is such a fun collection with a lot of heart and a lot to ponder. N.K. Jemisin is a perfect blend of upbeat sci-fi thrills and socially conscious messages that have had me devouring her books for years. This is an excellent collection.

Profile Image for Cindy.
407 reviews111k followers
February 19, 2020
I think I just need to accept that I cannot get into short story collections haha. So many of these were a hit or miss for me that overall I felt very lukewarm and stuck in the middle. Jemisin is definitely a great author and she has really cool concepts. I appreciate the various ways she tried to experiment with her writing style throughout these stories. Unfortunately, I either end up not liking them as much or I like them enough but get frustrated that it’s not longer and feels incomplete! My top 3 stories from this collection were Valedictorian, The Storyteller’s Replacement, and Cuisine des Memoires.
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.7k followers
May 31, 2019
Updated to add additional reviews for stories that are in this collection. "The Storyteller's Replacement" and "Cuisine des Mémoires" are nominated for a 2019 Locus award.

Goodreads has pulled together a couple of my Jemisin short story reviews and dumped them here, since they appear in her new short fiction collection, How Long 'til Black Future Month?. As it turns out, I've already read and reviewed some of her other stories in this collection, and am reading some additional stories I haven't read before (like her Locus award-nominated stories) so I'm adding new content to this review! Reviews first posted on Fantasy Literature:

4.5 stars for "The Evaluators." This alien contact SF short story is an online freebie at Wired.com.

About two hundred years in our future, humanity is engaged in exploring other planets and worlds and meeting alien civilizations. Wei Aiuha is part of a team that is engaging in discussions with a newly discovered alien race, the Manka, to see if humans can develop a relationship with the Manka and engage in some profitable trade with them. Back on earth, Thandiwe Solomon is trying to decipher Aiuha’s personal logs from her meetings with the Manka two years earlier. Those logs exist now only in fragments. The human team has disappeared, but perhaps Aiuha’s logs will shed some light on what happened and whether humans should engage in commerce with the Manka.

The story is told through transcripts of Aiuha’s discussions with the Manka, her file notes shared with her team, and other file memoranda that Thandi is reconstructing. There’s a sense of urgency to her job, though it only becomes clear at the end what the stakes are.

The structure of “The Evaluators” is a little confusing at first, and the confusion isn’t helped by all the distracting ads on the Wired webpage. But it’s well worth puzzling through (and putting up with the irritating ads). N.K. Jemisin has created a race that is truly alien, which I admire, and realistic misunderstandings and greed play a role in the way events unfold. It’s an intriguing mystery with a subtle element of horror that gradually comes to the fore.

4 stars for "Cloud Dragon Skies." Four strangers of the sky-people who live on a ring habitat beyond Mars, dressed in hazmat suits, come to Earth to visit the farm of Nahautu’s father. They request permission to use a cottage on the farm for their research purposes, and are given permission. Nahautu and her father live a simple life on the farm, as is now required of all people who remain on Earth.
There had been only two choices at the time of the great exodus: the Ring, where there could be cities and cars and all the conveniences of life as it once was, or Earth and nothing. Most chose the Ring, even though it meant traveling to the great belt of rocks beyond Mars, from which the Earth is merely a tiny pinpoint lost in a black, starry sky. For those who chose Earth, the lama manipa and the rebbe and the storytellers came forth and taught the people anew all the ways they had once scorned. And all the clans everywhere, no matter their chosen ways, swore the same oath: to live simply. Those who could not or would not were exiled to the Ring.
But Nahautu is curious about the strangers, particularly a young man among them, who flatters her with his romantic attention, which she has never gotten from the men in her area.

The strangers are researching the reasons behind the change several years ago in the color of the sky, from blue to red, with streaks of yellow, violet, green, and blue, and dragon-like clouds that twist and dance among the colors. The change in the sky alarms the sky-people, but doesn’t seem to be harming those still on earth. Should they take action to neutralize and try to undo the change?

This short story from N.K. Jemisin has an aura of an African folk tale to it, but also deals with current issues like the ways humans have thoughtlessly changed the earth where we live, and the need to respect nature’s ways. Nahautu sees the blind spots in the vision of the sky-people, even though there are also shortcomings in Earth’s back-to-basics society, where she is not appreciated as a woman due to her outspokenness. The cloud dragons, so real to Nahautu yet merely fanciful imaginings to the sky-man who loves her, seem to represent the spirits of nature.

3.5 stars for "The Storyteller's Replacement." A storyteller ― not the one originally expected, however ― tells the listener a tale of King Paramenter, who wishes to dispel rumors (apparently true) of his sexual impotence. So when his wizard suggests eating the heart of a male dragon, Paramenter is all over it. Unfortunately the only dragon his scouts can find turns out to be a nesting female. Better than nothing, Paramenter decides, and promptly eats her heart. The results are both good ― Paramenter’s queen and five concubines are very soon pregnant ― and bad ― all six women die in childbirth. The six baby girls are all healthy and grow up to be both clever and lovely, but also very strange.

Evil choices abound in this fantasy fable, a pointed message about the consequences of self-serving decision-making. As the storyteller comments:
So many of our leaders are weak, and choose to take power from others rather than build strength in themselves.
The framing device of the replacement storyteller is worth paying close attention to; it adds an additional layer to this ominous story.

3.5 stars for “Cuisine des Mémoires.” Harold is taken to a unique restaurant, Maison Laveau, as the guest of his friend Yvette. His first clue that something is odd: the menu’s first entrée reads “La Mort du Marie Antoinette”: it’s purportedly the last meal served to Marie Antoinette before she met the guillotine. Or perhaps he would prefer the roast pheasant served on the occasion that King Edward VIII of England announced his intention to marry Wallis Simpson? Or if the historic meals offered on the menu don’t appeal, there’s the customized option:
“Any meal from any occasion,” the caption read. In fine print: “Restaurant patron must be able to provide the exact date.”
Harold, taken aback by the menu (not to mention the nondisclosure agreement the hostess presents to him) grows belligerent and demands a particular meal from a memorable occasion in his life ten years earlier. And despite Yvette’s disapproval, he’s determined to unearth the secret of Maison Laveau.

Jemisin’s descriptions of these culinary miracles made my taste buds come to life: “crown roast of pork, broiled merlitons filled with a delicate crawfish-and-remoulade stuffing, honey-poached artichoke hearts …”. The secret of the kitchen of Maison Laveau was a slight letdown, but I did appreciate the sly reference to voodoo (Marie Laveau was a famous 19th century New Orleans voodoo practitioner). The slight twist at the end was an adroit reminder of what is most important about memories.

3.5 stars for "Henosis." Harkim is a well-known author who’s one of the finalists for an award to be given out that very night. He’s in a chauffeured limousine when he realizes that his driver is the wrong person. In fact, it’s a fan of his, who assures him that she’s kidnapping him for his own good.

With each section of this story, N.K. Jemisin jumps back and forth in time, gradually closing in on the key moment when we as readers realize what’s at stake, though the characters have been aware of it all along. The non-linear storytelling here seemed a bit like excessive gymnastics, though Jemisin helpfully includes chapter numbers to help the reader mentally order events. The ultimate reveal struck me as a little too weak of a concept to build an entire story around, though it’s told with Jemisin’s usual style and insight.

“Henosis” is a classical Greek word meaning “oneness”, “union” or “unity” with what is fundamental in reality, which concept gives the reader a little something extra to chew over in connection with the story’s underlying theme.

3.5 stars for "The Brides of Heaven.": A group of Muslim women is stranded alone on a colony planet after all of the men died when the coldsleep technology in the ship failed on the men’s side. The three young male children who had survived the disaster because they were in the women’s unit with their mothers, subsequently died in tragic mishaps on the fertile but deadly planet. The women try to go on with life when all hope of continuing their group with children has died as well, finding different ways to cope. One of their number, Dihya, driven almost to distraction by the death of her son, leaves the colony on an illicit excursion. Upon her return, she breaks into the purification facility and attempted to sabotage the water supply. During her subsequent interrogation, she tells her story and makes a confession.

The premise of this science fiction tale isn’t entirely new and the ending may not surprise all readers, but it’s well-told and the Muslim culture adds an unusual element. N.K. Jemisin thoughtfully explores the various ways in which devout women might react to a tragedy that negates one of the basic purposes of their lives, having and rearing children. Keeping the faith means different things to different women, and there’s an intriguing note of ambiguity to Dihya’s actions and decisions.

2.5 stars for "The City Born Great." Unfortunately, this one wasn’t to my taste, but it was nominated for a Hugo award in 2017, so YMMV (your mileage may vary).

New York City is in the process of being literally “born,” as all great cities must be when they get sufficiently old and large. A person is magically chosen by the city as its midwife, to sing and help it through the birthing process. The narrator, a homeless, gay African American, is mysteriously chosen for this process. He’s resistant to the idea, but as the song and pulse and birth pangs of the city become more compellingly real to him, he starts to get serious about what’s happening ― especially when he begins seeing terrifying enemies closing in, who are trying to kill both him and the city.

I thought the concept was a little thin, but Jemisin explores it well, and the narrator’s rough life on the edges of society feels very real. “The City Born Great” does include a very hefty dose of social justice issues: not only is a minority the hero, but police are the evil villains out to choke the life of the city. The message is not subtle. The story is also liberally sprinkled with more F-bombs than I could count, which tends to be a turn-off for me personally, but it does fit the world Jemisin has created. The story does pack a punch, and the form the villains take on as they relentlessly pursue the narrator is both imaginative and chilling.
Profile Image for Hiu Gregg.
113 reviews153 followers
December 18, 2018
This was, I’m ashamed to admit, the first N.K. Jemisin book I’ve ever read. I don’t say this because I subscribe to the belief that there are books which are “required reading” in the fantasy genre (because I absolutely don’t), but rather because on reading the stories in How Long ’til Black Future Month, I was struck by just how damned gifted Jemisin is as a writer. And yet I’m only finding that out now.

But then, “gifted” isn’t really the best word to use here. These stories are very much a reflection of the sort of thing that Jemisin has been saying for years. Some of them explore the concept of black excellence, which isn’t a result of someone being “gifted” so much as it is the result of clawing and scraping and working harder and better than anyone else. Because that’s what it takes for a person of colour to succeed. To be “excellent”, rather than “good enough”.

Nowhere is this emphasized more than in “Valedictorian” — a story about an hard-working, over-achieving black girl who is pressured to underachieve by her family and her society, ostensibly to protect her from some horrible fate that her dystopian world will inflict upon her.

Jemisin crafts a whole bunch of fantastical and science-fictional worlds which serve as a commentary on our own society. These can be contemporary, historical, or completely imaginary… and yet they all have a message that rings true. There’s 22 stories here, and while in most anthologies or collections you would expect to find a few duds, that’s… just not the case here. Sure, there were some that hit me harder than others, but there is genuinely not a weak story in this book, and that’s not an exaggeration.

Through the impressive variety of Jemisin’s worlds, concepts, and characters, there is a tangible undercurrent of real emotion. It would be easy to dismiss or belittle the legitimate anger, but it’s so much more than that.

Yes, there’s a fury there. Some of the criticisms of our world are scathing. But there’s also an undeniable sense of hope. An acknowledgement that, yes, things are pretty shitty at the moment. Yes, some of us are fucking exhausted. But things can, and will, get better.

I don’t believe in required reading, but this book has come the closest yet to changing my mind.
Profile Image for Holly.
1,415 reviews960 followers
February 6, 2019
3.5 stars

I absolutely *LOVED* this author's Broken Earth trilogy (starts with The Fifth Season) so I was really excited to pick up this collection of short stories. However, and it pains me to say this, I am not sure why this collection was published because the majority of the stories didn't particularly 'wow' me. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy some of them, there were a handful I actually REALLY wish were expanded into a full length novel because I enjoyed them so much. But most of them I was just kind of ambivalent about. I've listed below all the short stories contained in this (all 22 of them!) and I've bolded the ones that I thought were standouts (6), and italicized the ones that I really didn't care for (4). The rest were just average, not great but not bad either. Check out my status updates for this book to see my mini-reviews of each story if you are interested.

The Ones Who Stay and Fight
The City Born Great
Red Dirt Witch
The Effluent Engine
Cloud Dragon Skies
The Trojan Girl
The Valedictorian
The Storyteller's Replacement
The Brides of Heaven
The Evaluators
Walking Awake
The Elevator Dancer
Cuisine des Memoires
Stone Hunger
On the Banks of the River Lex
The Narcomancer
Too Many Yesterdays, Not Enough Tomorrows
The You Train
Non-Zero Probabilities
Sinners, Saints, Dragons, and Haints, in the City Beneath the Still Waters
Profile Image for Marchpane.
293 reviews2,109 followers
June 3, 2019
Based on the title, I was expecting How Long ‘til Black Future Month? to be a little more sci-fi leaning and/or a lot more overtly political. But as Jemisin points out in her introduction, just being a black woman writing sci-fi and fantasy that features black characters is a political act. Occasionally she does reference real-world events, such as the terrific “Sinners, Saints, Dragons, and Haints, in the City Beneath the Still Waters”, about a young man and his elderly neighbour trying to survive in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. With dragons. “Red Dirt Witch” places sinister faery folk in the Jim Crow South. The majority of these tales, however, are set in invented worlds, taking in everything from artificial intelligence to magical haute cuisine.

In theory, fantasy should be the least constrained of all genres, but in practice it is often mired in tropes and clichés. Jemisin’s writing stands out because it is so fresh and original and feverishly imaginative. Some of the stories in this collection originated as ‘proof of concept’ pieces for further development – “Stone Hunger” became the Broken Earth trilogy and “The Narcomancer” became the Dreamblood duology. And I think - don't quote me on this - “The City Born Great” contains the germ of Jemisin’s next novel, The City We Became.

But for every story that went on to bigger things, there are ten more with world-building just as rich and a narrative just as propulsive. Almost every story here could have kicked off a series – Jemisin’s imagination is incredibly capacious – and they are so varied and the worlds so fully realised that reading this collection really does feel like consuming several novels in ultra-concentrated form. Loved it.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,038 followers
October 11, 2020
"I am writing the stories that I wish someone had written for me when I was younger." - N.K. Jemisin on the video for her fresh and well deserved MacArthur Fellowship. This collection shows so much of the range of the mind of N.K. Jemisin, and I can't wait to see what she does next.

I purchased this book as part of a bundle of speculative fiction by black women writers from Sistah Scifi and I have been reading it since July. I set it beside my working space and would read a story when I needed to take a brain break. Some stories connect to the worlds she has written novels in, while others stand alone. Some are in conversation with previous stories, and some are more of a reflection on the world we know. I can't rate each one individually but overall my experience was five stars.

The links to stories when I can find them is not meant to take away from the sales of this book! Please buy it. But sometimes there are audio versions and sometimes it's nice to re-read a story by listening.

The Ones Who Stay and Fight on Lightspeed Magazine
This is in direct conversation with The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin and if you haven't read that one first, this one just won't make as much sense. It's like the old science fiction short story landscape, or so I've been told, where people wrote them to respond to others. They go together. So I guess the question has become, are you one who walks away, or do you stay and fight? Or do you just... stay?

The City Born Great on Tor.com
This is the idea that became The City We Became but honestly the voice in this story is my favorite. "Yooooo no." Ha! And with the added layer of homeless/poverty plus Blackness plus the appearance of mental illness for a man wandering the city.

Red Dirt Witch
Witchy ways in Alabama, through dreaming, the coming of the White Woman and future racial strife, lead a mother to make a sacrifice.

A cook gets a new gig. (Listen on EscapePod)

The Effluent Engine (read on Lightspeed Magazine)
Steampunk New Orleans, lady inventors who might have potential for more, Haitian spies, white supremacist secret orgs

Cloud Dragon Skies (read on Strange Horizons)
"I was not so very different from other women. I wanted to be touched with tenderness...I wanted someone to talk to who would ... not think, "How do I control such a woman?" That did not seem so very much to ask, to me. Nor to this strange young man from the sky.

The Trojan Girl (Read on the author's website or listen on EscapePod)
Virtual reality, the perfect girl, amorphous wolves...

The Valedictorian (listen to the story as read by LeVar Burton)
This is a followup story to The Trojan Girl, a bit later in time.

The Storyteller's Replacement
Men and virility, daughters and dragons. (2019 Locus Award Finalist)

The Brides of Heaven
Well *that's* an interesting interpretation of a first contact story.

The Evaluators
When the first crew disappears, a new inquiry is captured through reports and interview transcriptions and the reader helps figure it out too.

Walking Awake (on Lightspeed Magazine)
Examines complicity and complacency in a earth where humans are bred for their alien masters.

The Elevator Dancer
A very short story about freedom.

Cuisine des Mémoires (read by Levar Burton)
A restaurant in New Orleans that can recreate any meal. (2019 Locus Award Finalist)

Stone Hunger (listen to the audio on Clarkesworld Magazine)
In the world of the Broken Earth trilogy, and simultaneous with part of it.

On the Banks of the River Lex (On Clarkesworld Magazine)
"So Death walked into town every day."
A post-human world filled with the beings known to humans, but also the rest of the biological landscape. Also very New York.

The Narcomancer (audio from PodCastle
Originally written as proof of concept for the world of the Dreaming Moon, which might be my favorite of Jemisin's universes. You can read more about that process and her thinking in this interview.

Henosis (available at Uncanny Magazine)
A brief story about the price of fame, and what sets your legacy.

Too Many Yesterdays, Not Enough Tomorrows
Something has happened to reset the world every day, except the virtual world, which is where continuity is found among a group of people who can only interact that way. (I have many questions.)

The You Train (listen on YouTube
I'm positive this came from daydreaming while waiting for a train!

Non-Zero Probabilities (read on Clarkesworld Magazine)
Basically the author predicted the outside of probability 2020. Ha.

Sinners, Saints, Dragons, and Haints, in the City Under the Still Waters (read it at Uncanny Magazine
Katrina or a Katrina-like hurricane, and a man encounters different creatures in the aftermath.
Profile Image for Leah Rachel von Essen.
1,181 reviews160 followers
October 11, 2018
How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? is simply superb. There wasn’t a story in the twenty-two that didn’t impress. Jemisin is a science fiction and fantasy powerhouse, and that is clear by the sheer variety of tales told—there are a dozen novel-worthy worlds crafted in this volume.

Jemisin opens with “The Ones Who Stay and Fight,” a direct story response to Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” It ends with a parallel—a story about a man defending his city, post-Katrina New Orleans, from hateful spirits alongside dragons. There’s a rebellion about many of these tales, an insistence, a resistance towards being told to leave, to abandon, or to be any less than you know you can be. One of my favorite tales in the collection was “Valedictorian,” a story about a black girl who refuses to underachieve even though being the best in her class will have dire consequences. Other stars include two stories about food: "L’Alchimista,” about a chef fallen from grace who finally finds a challenge worth her skills when a magician brings her strange materials with unexpected power; and “Cuisine des Mémoires,” where a restaurant serves people meals from history—or from their own pasts. In “On the Banks of the River Lex,” Death and other deities try to get by after mankind is gone; in “The You Train,” a woman keeps glimpsing ghosts of NYC subway lines that don’t exist; in “Non-Zero Probabilities,” one-in-a-million chances suddenly become day-to-day probabilities in the city. Those are just some of my favorites, but any of the 22 stories about destruction, rebirth, and redemption could have been featured here.

How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? is a stunning short story collection from one of the best SFF writers of all times, let alone ours. It comes out November 27, 2018 from Orbit Books, but I recommend preordering it now.
Profile Image for Sara.
1,058 reviews353 followers
March 1, 2020
3.5 stars. What follows is my massive breakdown of all the stories. There were some absolute gems in this, but some I also found overly complicated.

The Ones Who Stay and Fight - 3 stars. Great concept, falls a little flat in execution for me due to it being so short, no build up. Lots of telling and no showing.

The City Born Great - 2.5 stars. Feels frenetic and confusing and missing a lot of the backstory which would have helped. Most of the time I had no idea what was going on. However, great atmosphere.

Red Dirt Witch - 4 stars. Great story, with an amazing ending. Feels complete, fully fleshed out characters with a folk story feel that makes it almost whimsical (but gritty).

L’Alchemista - 4 stars. I loved the ingenuity in this story, mixing the love of food with the history of alchemy in an interesting and new way. The mysterious ‘man’ also added another supernatural element that I appreciated.

The Effluent Engine - 3 stars. Sapphic science with utopian ideals. This had a slow start, and felt very heavy on the science, but by the end I was in love with Eugenia and Jessamine.

Cloud Dragon Skies - 3 stars. Environmental love story, premonitions of the future and respect for what is left behind. Interesting idea, although short. I wanted more of the lore.

The Trojan Girl - 2 stars. Confusing science fiction, computer stuff that reminded me of a more complicated Matrix. Didn’t really get it, or any of the concepts.

Valedictorian- 3.5 stars. More science fiction, but with a more intriguing concept. Themes of competition, uniqueness, winning and doing your best. Excelling because you want to, and not trying to fit in.

The Storytellers Replacement - 5 stars. Dragons. Enough said.

The Brides of Heaven - 3 stars. Wonderful diversity, mixing religion and science fiction, femininity and womanhood in an odd yet interesting way. It’s weird, at times verging on bonkers, but delightfully different.

The Evaluators - 2 stars. Confusing. Strange format. Didn’t really understand it.

Walking Awake - 4 stars. Body snatchers meets bioscience creepiness. Thrilling and focused.

The Elevator Dancer - 1 star. Weird. Made no sense to me. Thankfully short.

Cuisine des Memoires - 4 stars. Loved it. Memories. Food. Hints of mystery and time travel. It oozes intrigue and history. Thought provoking.

Stone Hunger - 3 stars. Elemental. Raw. Revenge. However the characters are all pretty unlikeable.

On the Banks of the River Lex - 3 stars. Reminds me of American Gods, but left me wanting more. It feels unfinished.

The Narcomancer - 4 stars. Dreams and sex and noise. I liked the characters and felt very well immersed in the world.

Henosis - 3 stars. Hints of Misery, told in a timey wimey, upside down way. Very short though.

Too Many Yesterdays, Not Enough Tomorrows - 4 stars. Dystopian. Apocalyptic. It manages to be relevant and of it’s time while packing a punch.

The You Train - 3 stars. Interesting narrative style. Urban sentient trains. Reminded me of Neverwhere.

Non-Zero Probabilities - 3 stars. Luck and life in the city. Gets a bit overwrought and overwritten at times.

Sinners, Saints, Dragons, and Haints, in the City Beneath the Still Waters - 4.5 stars. Talking lizards and the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. Emotional, energetic and engaging.
Profile Image for Mir.
4,845 reviews5,003 followers
August 2, 2020
[edit: my review was only for the titular story. Apparently goodreads decided to merge that with the collection of the same name.]

This was a pretty awesome, original short story about alien contact. It was told in the form of fragmentary documents: reports, IMs, recorded conversations, etc. There were also visual and formatting elements, but unfortunately I was unable to read this on the WIRED site because of pop-ups, so I pasted it into a text document and was not able to see the images. Still really enjoyed it, though, and would read more set in this world.
Profile Image for carol..
1,517 reviews7,722 followers
May 10, 2019

***Hey, Great job, Goodreads! This review was for a single short story, The Evaluators, but maybe also for another short story, "The Narcomancer." Idk, because my links are broken and the you re-shelved my review under a collection of short stories. So I should probably delete this review because I have no idea what it's reviewing. Jerks.---carol. 5/19

While I had links to the stories, it appears Jemisin had to pull it them from the website and there were, apparently, issues.

I'll be honest here: I have only the vaguest of recollections what this short story was like, so I'm downgrading it. Anything that's truly interesting should stay with me a bit longer.

The short story formatting was problematic on a webpage that has colorful side content, particularly as there were illustrations included. This is not an unusual format for first contact stories, but I think the last one I read was better. It needed more fleshing out in terms of... anything, really. Characters, world, whatever. In this case the brevity doesn't really allow for full emotional impact.

Other review that was so not helpfully merged with this one: (for Narcomancer?)
I knew where it was headed, but still packed a punch when it got there. Reminded me a great deal of Kameron Hurley's themes/style as well.
Profile Image for Anthony.
Author 4 books1,823 followers
June 11, 2019
Impressively varied in tone, voice, subject, and style, this short story collection was wonderfully entertaining and provocative. N.K. Jemisin writes with enormous confidence, takes big risks, and doesn’t settle for the easy way out. Well worth reading.
Profile Image for Sarah.
606 reviews145 followers
January 20, 2019
I finished and it only took 5 days. Go me!

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this. From Jemisin I’ve only ever read The Fifth Season, and my relationship with that was only lukewarm. I did know that she had some fantastic ideas for worlds and narrative choices though, so I was hopeful.

I’m happy to say that every single story in this book reaffirms what I’ve stated above. Jemisin is truly a creative genius and her writing is top notch. (And best of all, I didn’t come across any that were super upsetting.)

The book starts with a phenomenal and heartfelt introduction about the struggles she faced as a beginning author, and if you tend to skip intros, don’t, this one is quick and well worth reading.

It then opens with: “The Ones Who Stay And Fight”, she says is a response to a LeGuin story (Omelas?). I had not read LeGuin’s story and so I don’t think I understood this one very well, and I’m having a hard time recalling any details about it now. “The City Born Great” comes next. It was a little more on the abstract side and as a story I just didn’t love it. The writing was phenomenal though.

“Red Dirt Witch” stands out as being one of my absolute favorites. Following the first two stories it really showcased her versatility as a writer because it definitely had a folk tale type feel as opposed to the frenetic, urban feel of the prior story. The ending was killer.

“L’Alchemista” was another favorite. It’s about food and love of food, and felt very rustic. It also made me super nostalgic for my mom’s cooking. Aside from that it was just really fun. “The Effluent Engine” comes next, and while an excellent story, it reminded me a lot of “The Black Gods Drums”. Nothing wrong with that- I loved the TBGD, but it maybe felt a little too familiar and I was left wanting a little something more.

“Cloud Dragon Skies” delves a little into the sci-fi realm, but the world in it evoked a lot of the same feeling that I got from reading “The Fifth Season”, an overarching threat of doom, grim tone, etc. I enjoyed this one and especially the ending. “The Trojan Girl” is also more sci-fi than fantasy, but also one of her more abstract pieces. I liked the overall message, but wasn’t crazy about the story itself. “Valedictorian” is another SF/dystopian piece that definitely has a haunting message.

“The Storyteller’s Replacement” I actually can’t recall very well, but I remember thinking that I thought it made for a good interlude in the book, which makes me think it wasn’t a very strictly structured short story. “The Brides of Heaven” is about a group of women who land on a planet that seems to be killing all the males. It’s an open ended story (which aren’t my favorite) but in this case, because the time investment wasn’t significant, I was okay with it. The feelings it evokes are definitely sort of eerie and spooky and it will stick with me for awhile.

“The Evaluators” I loved. Jemisin mentioned in the intro she enjoyed writing short stories because t gave her an opportunity to experiment and I think this piece is one of those. It’s told through a series of memos/logs and was precisely the kind of sci-fi/horror story that I love. “Walking Awake” also ventures into horror (content warnings for child trauma/violence) and wasn’t a favorite for me although again, I loved the message.

“The Elevator Dancer” is a quick story that almost felt like it could have been a spin off of Orwell’s 1984. I liked this a lot more than I liked 1984.

We shift gears back to fantasy with “Cuisine des Memoires” and it stands it as another favorite in the book. Kind of a love letter to the power food can have in our lives (or at least in our memories). I kind of also got the message that food is one of the oldest ways in the world to show you care for someone. Whether just by sharing it or by putting your heart on a plate.

“Stone Hunger” is a prelude to The Fifth Season that I actually enjoyed a lot more than the book itself. I sort of wish I’d read it first because I think I would have appreciated what came next much more.

“On the Banks of the River Lex” was very reminiscent of Gaiman’s American Gods and not in a bad way. I absolutely love the concept and love the way she portrayed Death. “The Narcomancer” was just meh for me, but I liked the ending.

“Henosis” is another experimental story told non-linearly that worked really well in short story format. The ending is another ambiguous one but I liked the format enough not to care. It also draws some interesting conclusions about celebrity in America.

“Too Many Yesterdays, Not Enough Tomorrows” is another sci-fi story with a super original concept that I thoroughly enjoyed (the title is a hint). “The You Train” is another abstract piece but again I loved the message. The Nike slogan “Just Do It” comes to mind, and I also found it super relatable because if I didn’t have a child at home, I think I’d board The You Train myself.

“Non-Zero Probabilities” was about exactly that, non-zero probabilities. It was definitely interesting, but coming at the end of so many other fantastic stories, not a standout to me. We close with “Sinners, Saints, Dragons, and Haints, in the City Beneath the Still Waters”. This was a favorite, and one of the only stories that made me really care about the characters. It’s about some odd happenings during and after Hurricane Katrina, and while that storm and it’s destruction were no joke, I found the story itself really hopeful, and the overall tone fairly light (probably gross misunderstandings on my part).

I know this was a super long review but I wanted to touch a little on each story without spoiling too much of the plots. I think each story had something to offer and all of them were well worth reading. This collection has definitely renewed my interest in Jemisin and made me question my own feelings about The Fifth Season. I’m not sure if I want to re-read it, just plow on to book two, or start one of her other books, but I’ll definitely be revisiting her work in the future.
Profile Image for Olethros.
2,610 reviews419 followers
June 3, 2021
-Cuando los empujones del Marketing tratan de que lo bueno, solvente y efectivo llegue a trascender más allá de eso, que no es poco.-

Género. Relatos.

Lo que nos cuenta. El libro La ciudad que nació grandiosa y otros relatos (publicación original: How Long ‘til Black Future Month?, 2018) es una recopilación con veintidós relatos de ciencia ficción y fantasía que nos presentan, entre otros muchos asuntos, a una cocinera con un reto por delante, una magia relacionada con las ciudades y el urbanismo, varios tipos de distopía, Nueva Orleans tras el huracán Katrina y a la misma población un par de siglos antes.

¿Quiere saber más de este libro, sin spoilers? Visite:

Profile Image for ✨    jami   ✨.
655 reviews3,859 followers
June 29, 2020
Incredible collection. Jemisin once again proves her skill, creativity, and sheer innovation in the SFF genre. She is such a versatile writer with so much to say, who creates such intriguing stories and clearly has a lot to say. I would recommend going into this after reading some Jemisin (The Fifth Season!!!) but at the same time, SFF and short story fans shouldn't give this one a miss if they haven't because there is a lot here for everyone.

top 3 Favourites:

The Effluent Engine: Follows a spy from Haiti during the Haitian revolution. Steampunk elements with an f/f romance. Just fucking amazing. A fun plot, an excellent fusion of the futuristic and the historical and a story I legitimately would read right this second if it had a full version.

Cuisine des Memories: A restaurant that serves dishes that recreates memories? Loved the mystery of this one, and the examination of the importance of food in a personal and also cultural sense. Thought the ending of the story was lovely and I guess I felt like I really 'got' this story and where it was coming from.

Sinners, Saints, Dragons, and Haints, in the City Beneath the Still Waters: The final story in the collection and one that doesn't let up the entire way through. Set in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina but with fantastical elements. I think this is such a great example of how Jemisin uses fantasy to draw parallels with our world and how deft she is at implanting fantasy elements in a way that feels both organic and thought about.

Other stories I damn loved:

The City Born Great: Amazing, amazing concept. Listened to this one and LOVED the narrator and the strength of the character voice. This is an early concept for The City We Became? and if so it's going to be an amazing book. The blend of the city and the monsters, ingenious.

L'Alchimista Not exactly sure why I loved this so much, was just so sucked into it and went "that's it?!" when I finished it. No big brain thoughts just good story

Walking Awake not only loved the sci-fi elements of this, thinking alien parasites/body snatchers/Get out vibes, but also the themes around revolution, education and truth-telling and how individuals play a role in the destruction and creation of societies

The Storyteller's Replacement dark fantasy fairy tale with many a twist and turn. Just really enjoyed the atmosphere of this story and its high fantasy focus

The Evaluators an alien/human story about humanity, society, and questioning what makes us human and how rhetoric shapes opinions. Gave me 'Arrival' vibes. The slow, unravelling horror of this story was great.

Profile Image for Mara.
1,511 reviews3,673 followers
December 15, 2019
This book makes me so excited to try more from NK Jemisin. There are definitely highs and lows, as is true for most short story collections, but overall, this showcases the range of her imagination and, even more intriguingly to me, her consistent thematic content
Profile Image for Sahitya.
1,022 reviews203 followers
April 23, 2019
Jemisin is a phenomenal writer and every story of hers reflects her talent. She has a knack for telling stories and creating worlds with a lot of depth and meaning and lot of parallels to our real world. This collection of short stories has its own share of some great ones and some not so good ones, but my main problem was that there were a few I just didn’t understand. I’ve felt this before about the author’s works - she writes on a whole other level which is very complicated and not easy for me to comprehend. However, the writing is beautiful and few of the stories have a profound meaning to them. I would recommend this book to all adult sci-fi lovers.

I’ve taken an average of the ratings for all the stories and rounded it up to 4. Please find my individual ratings and reviews below:

The Ones who stay and fight

It took me a while to get into this but then it was so interesting. It focuses on showing us a post colonial utopian world (or simply an alternate universe) where diverse groups of people live in true harmony. This story is a commentary on how we are so used to living in a world so full of divisions and hate and all kinds of discrimination, we can’t even imagine that such a utopia can exist.


The City born great

I don’t think I really understood this story 😔


Red Dirt Witch

A story set (I think) during the Jim Crow era Alabama or earlier, this shows the lengths to which a woman will sacrifice herself to ensure that her daughter’s dream of a more prosperous future for Black people comes true.



The story of a master chef capable of creating magic through her delicious cooking, this was beautifully written and features a woman who is extremely sure of her capabilities despite being denied her due.


The Effluent Engine

The tale of two young women - one a very capable scientist from New Orleans and another a spy from Haiti trying to keep her country free - this story is about these women taking control of their futures despite the discriminatory systems in which they live. With the hint of the beginning of a love story between the two, I completely fell in love with these characters.


Cloud Dragon Skies

Depicting the struggle a woman faces when having to choose between her family or her love, set against the backdrop of a dystopian future where Earth has been drastically affected due to climate change, this is a very fascinating story.


The Trojan Girl

Even though I didn’t completely understand the technical jargon in the story, it wonderfully depicts the importance of empathy and compassion, that these qualities are a source of tremendous strength. Beautifully written.



This is an amazing dystopian story about a very intelligent young Black woman who just wants to be herself and live life to her fullest potential, but the world around her doesn’t accept her uniqueness and just wants her to conform. I loved the parallels to our current society where anyone who doesn’t conform to the “rules” is discriminated against.


The Storyteller’s Replacement

I can’t really explain what this story was about properly but I absolutely loved it. It has dragons and some very creepy and eerie elements. And the moral that if you destroy someone else to gain power, you will get destroyed someday.


The Brides of Heaven

This was a story about two women with varied ideas - one almost fanatic in her faith and the other just trying to be as pragmatic as possible to survive in their harsh environment where only women existed. It was very well written but I wasn’t sure how to interpret the ending.


The Evaluators

This sci-fi story had a lot of talk about overpopulation, sustainability of the planet and super predators. It’s also written in an epistolary format which made it quite interesting.


Walking Awake

Wow just wow. I don’t want to give anything away but this is a story about the oppressed finally deciding to revolt against their oppressors. It’s such a painful tale but wonderfully written.


The Elevator Dancer

A world that seemed to have some similarities to Gilead, the women in this story are bound by the rules of the faithful government but this is about a man who starts to feel temptation. I’m not sure I completely understood it though.


Cuisine des Mémoires

This was a story about getting lost in memories of the past and trying to recreate them rather than living for the present. It felt very profound and deep and featured some great character development.


Stone Hunger

Now this is story which eventually led to the writing of The Broken Earth trilogy, so I loved reading it. It has a young girl trying to survive in a cruel world whichever way she can, while also wanting revenge for a past transgression committed against her. And finally realizing she can hope for more. I feel you’ll love this story more if you’ve read the trilogy.


On the Banks of the River Lex

Another story which I didn’t totally understand but somehow just loved. It’s a world which has suffered a lot, but some people are trying to survive. And the existence of the Gods depends on how much they are worshipped by the survivors. This symbiotic relationship between the Gods and mortals reminded me a lot of the stories from Indian mythology, so it was interesting to read it in a New York setting.


The Narcomancer

This story is set in the author’s Dreamblood duology world and it’s another tale of people trying to maintain their faith and control their destiny against all odds. It’s beautifully written and made me very emotional. I also felt this was one story in this book that had a complete arc and is probably my favorite in this collection.



I felt quite sad reading this one, to realize how far the characters in the story are ready to go to preserve their legacy. And I can’t help but question if we are already there in our current society.


Too Many Yesterdays, Not Enough Tomorrows

A future with miniverses where every person lives in their own reality and every day is lived all over again - the only communication existing online. It was such a bittersweet story about isolation, trying to find a community and wanting more than what we are allowed.


The You Train

I mean I think this was written well enough but I didn’t understand much of it. Maybe the point the author was trying to make was that we should grab an opportunity when it presents itself and not wait too long, but I could be wrong too..


Non-Zero Probabilities

This is set in a New York where so many bad things are happening that people have come to believe the end times are coming. And everyone has their own way of coping. But I still didn’t understand the point of the story.


Sinners, Saints, Dragons, and Haints, in the City Beneath the Still Waters

Set during a hurricane, this was a story of survival and trying to not let hate takeover you during harrowing situations, but fight for the good.


Average Rating : ⭐️⭐️⭐️.77
Profile Image for Hannah.
588 reviews1,046 followers
Shelved as 'on-hold'
July 17, 2018
I don’t think I could be more excited for this.
Profile Image for Allison Hurd.
Author 3 books687 followers
February 18, 2020
I didn't need much of an excuse to prioritize more Jemisin, but as I recently had cause, I was glad to spend more time in her thoughtful, complex writing. I will never be as good at reading short stories as I am at full length work (I'm like an 800 relay kind of girl, rather than a 100m one when it comes to books) but there was plenty here to chew on.

CONTENT WARNING (just a list of topics)

My favorites were:

The Ones Who Stay and Fight - a direct response to Le Guin, effortlessly meshing Nora's storytelling style and Le Guin's strong atmosphere.

Red Dirt Witch - The emotion, the feeling of both complete helplessness and eternal hope eviscerated me.

L'Alchimista - It was just fun. I love the idea that chefs and witches are essentially the same thing.

Trojan Girl - I really enjoyed thinking about high-tech werewolves. I thought the visuals in this were so wonderfully new.

Stone Hunger - Good to see old friends, even if just briefly.

Non-Zero Possibilities - This one felt almost Mievillian to me. I saw a lot that I had strong feelings about.

Sinners, Saints, Dragons, and Haints, in the City Beneath the Still Waters. I really thought it was great how she went for a less-common Dat accent, really committing to a codeswitch in her writing style that I found strong, resounding, and graceful.

The others all had great ideas of course, but I felt like the ideas hadn't been as crystallized as I want if I'm just going to have this one slice of story. I guess comforting to know that even unparalleled authors like Nora don't always get every word perfect, but there was a bit more lifting than I wanted to do to enjoy these small bits of world.

Glad I read it, now back to my long distance books :)
Profile Image for CaseyTheCanadianLesbrarian.
1,118 reviews1,343 followers
April 21, 2019
A majestic collection of fantasy and sciencefiction short stories from N.K. Jemisin, one of my favourite authors. There's incredible variety in here, from a world where "quantum proliferation" has propelled everyone into separate looping realities to a magical recipe that keeps you forever young to a restaurant that can serve any meal from any day in history to an uncanny exactness. Some stories are stronger than others, but overall an excellent book.
Profile Image for Liz Barnsley.
3,405 reviews990 followers
November 20, 2018
I’ve recently been making my way through this authors ” Broken Earth ” trilogy – one book to go- and the way she writes is so creative, beautifully done, so as a fan of short stories generally I was looking forward to this.
There is an art to the short story form, not every author no matter how talented can pull them off, but N K Jemisin certainly can. In this collection we have varying lengths but each one is a small gem unto itself, exploring many themes, a lot of them melancholy and thought provoking.
Each one is involving and beautiful, sometimes really emotional and at times scary. I was particularly taken with “The City Born Great” with it’s descriptive, sprawling metropolis and “The Elevator Dancer” which packs a whole load of punch and relevance into a very small narrative.
There isn’t a single failure here, I mean I could mention so many and give you reasons why it’s better than the last (The You Train for example left me feeling vaguely sad for days and says so much without saying anything much at all) or I could describe them all in minute detail but to my mind you should just dive in and appreciate each on your own terms.
There is a gorgeous little gift of a tale in here for fans of the aforementioned Broken Earth trilogy too. Excellent.
Loved this. Let’s hope N K Jemisin offers us more of these in the future. Like Stephen King she has the art of it down- whether the setting is our world or another, these are little snapshots of the soul.
Highly Recommended
Profile Image for Jokoloyo.
449 reviews269 followers
July 1, 2017
The art and the web design is reinforcing the atmosphere of the story. One of my better read for SF short story on 2017. A fascinating contact-with-another-species story with web style storytelling. I admit I add 1 star due to the design.

Maybe only I did the mistake, but when first time I read it, I was confused with the timeline. Please make sure you notice the time record of each section/chapter.

For the title art, if the page art seems too large, I use this link to watch it: I put spoiler tag because the art has some spoiler for me. Luckily I see the pic carefully after reading the story.
Profile Image for ONYX Pages.
50 reviews350 followers
April 10, 2020
Many enjoyable stories, although a few underwhelmed. I'm so used to reading Jemisin's epics that I often finished a story wanting more from that world. I found the variety of genres and lengths of stories cacophonic, and incongruent with my 'pandemic'- affected moods. But I got through it and was able to enjoy the collection more and more as I went along.

I love Jemisin's preoccupation with cities. That gets touched in this collection, which I deeply appreciate.

910 reviews256 followers
June 10, 2020
I’ve been waiting to write a review of this, hoping words would come at some point, but - no. No words. It's too good to find new words for.

Just... this is further proof of the pure and utter genius of N.K Jemisin
Profile Image for Café de Tinta.
560 reviews196 followers
October 3, 2019
.....De todos modos, estamos ante una antología muy interesante, que permite conocer mejor a la autora y su escritura, con temas muy potentes y a través de géneros tan diversos que difícil es que no te gusten la mayoría de los relatos...
Profile Image for laurel [the suspected bibliophile].
1,371 reviews377 followers
December 14, 2019
A collection of science fiction master N K Jemisin's short stories, from her early career (although she refuses to release her teenage novels and remind us that she is human) to now.

This was fantastic, with many five or six star short stories that had my jaw dropping with what science fiction can be and should be and completely is. There were only a couple stories that I wasn't incredibly fond of, most of those written early in her career (at least I think) based on the writing style.

Some of my favorites in the collection:

"The Ones Who Stay and Fight" about a utopian society/alternate reality.

"The City Born Great" a young man becomes midwife to New York City, which is about to be born into something amazing. But first, he's got to fight off a vicious demon determined to keep the city unborn.

"Red Dirt Witch" A White Lady attempts to steal the child of a Black widwife, with the bargain of one for three, and the midwife resists. Filled with Appalachian folk magic, history and the power of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. It's beautiful and searing.

"L'Alchimista" made me so fucking hungry, and filled with awe of master chefs and their food wizardry.

"Sinners, Saints, Dragons, and Haints, in the City Beneath the Still Waters" After a bunch of okay to not-riveting-but-still-phenomenal stories, this short blew me away. Tookie tries to survive Hurricane Katrina and the breaking of the levies in New Orleans, and finds himself trying to save more than himself and an old neighbor. Because there's something lurking in the waters. And it's hungry.

Definitely a must-read if you want to dip your toe into science fiction short stories.

And the audiobook is fantastic, too!
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